Post 244

A Recipe for February

Today is the last day of February and also the Tuesday before Lent begins. Lent starts tomorrow with Ash Wednesday. If you see people wandering around with cross-shaped smudges of gray ash on their foreheads, that’s because they went to an Ash Wednesday Mass. It’s not a day of obligation, but many people go to this Lenten kickoff.

Sometimes people call this “Shrove Tuesday.” “Shriving” is the act of hearing Confession and giving absolution, so the idea is that people would go to Confession in preparation for the period of Lent. “Shrive” means to absolve. Pancakes are sometimes involved, but you have Wikipedia if you want to find out more.

Ash Wednesday involves avoiding the consumption of meat or other food. This applies to those aged 14 to 59, but the starting age is 18 in the United States, from what I can tell. The main thing, however, is the disposition of the heart, and fasting is an expression of this.

I’ve got a recipe for you and my goal is to publish this before midnight. That gives me fewer than 25 minutes.

This recipe is the kind that does not catch your eye in a cookbook if you’re unfamiliar with it. I had never had it until I went to Normand’s Restaurant here in town. I was really blown away and later on I went looking to see if I had the same recipe. I do. This one is from The America’s Test Kitchen Family Baking Book and it’s awesome, even without the toffee sauce.

Because February is the month of St. Valentine’s Day, I’ll allow myself about ten or fifteen minutes of chit chat about that.

Here are my thoughts.

I don’t believe in date nights. Date nights are for those who are dating, not those who are married. What, exactly, is the point of such a ritual? The husband gets dressed up, the wife gets dressed up and they go ‘out on the town.’ Who is the audience for these fashionable looks? Let’s be honest now. The husband has already seen the wife, and the wife has already seen her husband.

But more importantly, the problem with date night is the implicit message that a couple must be alone in order to advance their relationship or to maintain it. More specifically, the message is that things are better when the children are absent. The theory is that ‘time alone’ will translate into better communication and romance.

This is misguided thinking. You don’t need a babysitter to improve your marriage. If your marriage is happy, then it is happy in the context of real life, and both the husband and the wife will have no shortage of ideas about expressing their affection. If your marriage is blah or struggling, it is not going to be improved by going out to a restaurant. Will any real progress be made on deeper issues with the waiter swooping in every eight minutes? I think not.

If real issues need to be addressed, they can be addressed in the context of the everyday. Discuss issues when they arise, and discuss them in the context of family life. There is no need for all discussions to take place behind closed doors. Tension is tension, and children are not nearly as naïve as adults believe; having a whispered and angry discussion is not necessarily better than having an openly heated one. Couples who habitually refuse to confront important issues will find that they are soon ‘going through the motions’ of marriage, instead of genuinely participating in it as equal and mature adults. Marriage is exciting and full of drama. Those who insist that a stable marriage is always tranquil fail to grasp the fullness of human life. Pope Francis was only partly joking when he talked about the plates flying.

Let both the difficulties and the joys be shared within the context of the family. Do not divide the family in the name of marital love and togetherness. It is not God’s way. God’s way does not involve babysitters and other parental substitutes to enable a married couple to go out to a restaurant or coffee shop or, even worse, an island over there.

Stay home. Celebrate with your children. Make a dessert. Serve it with vanilla ice cream.

Individual Sticky Toffee Pudding Cakes
Serves 8

Because the cake batter is so sticky, it is essential to line the ramekins with parchment paper to prevent sticking. While sticky toffee pudding cake is traditionally served with Crème Anglaise, vanilla ice cream also makes a nice accompaniment.


1 1/4 cups (6 1/4 ounces) all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups (6 1/4 ounces) pitted whole dates, sliced 1/4 inch thick
3/4 cup warm water
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup packed (5 1/4 ounces) light brown sugar
2 large eggs, room temperture
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled


8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
1 cup packed (7 ounces) brown sugar
2/3 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon rum

1. FOR THE PUDDING CAKES: Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour eight 6-ounce ramekins, then line the bottom of each with a round of parchment paper. Place a kitchen towel on the bottom of a large roasting pan and arrange the ramekins on the towel. Bring a kettle of water to a boil.

2. Whisk the flour, baking powder and salt together in a medium bowl. Combine 3/4 cup of the dates with the warm water and baking soda in a glass measuring cup (the dates should be completely submerged) and set aside to soften, about 5 minutes. Drain the softened dates and reserve the soaking liquid.

3. Pulse the remaining 1/2 cup dates and brown sugar in a food processor until just combined, about 5 pulses. Add the reserved date soaking liquid, eggs and vanilla and process until smooth, about 5 seconds. With the food processor running, pour the melted butter through the feed tube in a steady stream. Transfer the mixture to a medium bowl and stir in the softened dates. Gently stir in the flour mixture until just combined. Divide the batter evenly among the prepared ramekins.

4. Place the roasting pan in the oven and carefully pour enough boiling water into the pan to reach halfway up the sides of the ramekins. Cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil, crimping the edges to seal. Bake the cakes until puffed and small holes appear on their surface, 35 to 40 minutes.

5. FOR THE TOFFEE SAUCE: Meanwhile, melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Whisk in the brown sugar and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the sugar is dissolved and the mixture looks puffy, 3 to 4 minutes. Slowly whisk in the cream and rum, reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer until frothy, about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and cover to keep warm.

6. Carefully remove the ramekins from the water bath using tongs and a sturdy spatula and let the cakes cool in the ramekins for 10 minutes. Using a skewer or toothpick, poke holes all over the tops of the cakes, then pour 1 tablespoon of the toffee sauce over each cake. Run a small knife around the edges of the ramekins to loosen the cakes, then flip out onto individual plates or bowls. Peel off the parchment paper and pour the remaining toffee sauce over the top before serving.

There’s a tip in the cookbook about tenderizing dates, as well as instructions on how to make this recipe ahead of time, but speaking of time, I’m out of it. Bye!